November 9, 2022
RE: Supporting the call to dismantle BC’s family policing system
Dear Honourable Premier Eby and Members of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth:
This letter, written on behalf of Pivot Legal Society, follows a unified call to dismantle the family policing system in BC, a system currently enforced by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).
On October 26, 2022, an open letter was released by West Coast LEAF; Keeping Families Together; PACK BC; YWCA Metro Vancouver; BC Association of Social Workers; and RainCity Housing.
Pivot supports this urgent call for change to MCFD’s current framework for investigation, intervention, child removal, and pathways towards reunification. As the signatories of the October 26 letter state:
The culture, policies, training, and tools that guide child protection work in BC are deeply flawed and rooted in colonial, ableist, misogynistic, and classist biases. They uphold ongoing colonization in the lives of Indigenous children, youth, families, communities, and Nations.
To address this reality, we call on the BC government to take immediate action, including by amending BC’s Human Rights Code to include social condition as a protected ground.
About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a human rights and legal organization that works in partnership with communities affected by poverty and social exclusion across Vancouver, BC, and Canada to identify priorities and develop solutions to complex human rights issues. Pivot’s work is focused on five policy areas: policing and criminalization, ending homelessness, drug policy reform, sex workers’ rights, and anti-stigma work. Our work engages all levels of government, including provincial laws and policies.
Over a decade ago, Pivot released a report centering parents’ voices in the province’s child welfare crisis: Broken Promises: Parents Speak about B.C.’s Child Welfare System. We know that persistent failures within the MCFD continue to shape the lives of our clients, their families, Nations, and communities of support.
Defining Family Policing
Like West Coast LEAF, Pivot is shifting our description of the system previously known as “child welfare” or “child protection” and using the more apt description of “family policing”. This shift is premised on the robust connections between that system and the overarching carceral system.
For instance, abolitionist legal scholar Dorothy Roberts has researched and connected “child welfare” systems to broader carceral systems, including adult incarceration and the War on Drugs, foster care, and family separation policies in immigration detention. She notes, “This has always been a system that particularly and disproportionately targets Black and Indigenous communities as a weapon of social warfare and a means of community disruption, and that’s important for understanding how family policing operates today”. We see this connection borne out every day in the lives of our clients and community members and, as such, seek meaningful change to keep families from experiencing harm caused by the very system purported to protect them.
Defining Social Condition
A person’s social condition reflects their inclusion in a socially identifiable group that suffers from social or economic disadvantage on the basis of poverty, sources of income, occupation, housing status, level of education, or any other similar circumstance. Practically, social condition discrimination is applied as class discrimination. This type of discrimination happens to people who live in perceived or actual poverty, people who have low levels of education, people who have low levels of income, people who have no housing, unstable housing, or who shelter outdoors, and to people who have no occupation or who work in stigmatized occupations. Living with these characteristics makes families likely to be targeted by the MCFD, and this systemic practice constitutes social condition discrimination.
Protecting Families from Discrimination
In addition to addressing the systemic issues within the surveillance system of family policing, Pivot further calls on the province to amend the Human Rights Code to protect individuals and families against social condition discrimination which is based on stigmatizing beliefs about the quality of parenting that poor and racialized families can provide. Stigma bears great adverse consequences, including social exclusion and criminalization, as well as involvement with the family policing system, another form of criminalization. Problematically, stigmatized communities, such as families living in poverty, experience a form of discrimination in BC that is not currently protected under our provincial Human Rights Code: social condition discrimination.
Several other provinces and territories in Canada already protect against discrimination on the basis of a person’s social condition, including Manitoba, New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories, and Quebec. It is time for BC to make these same changes to our legislation, a call for reform that the BC Office of the Human Rights Commissioner already made in 2020, but which remains unheeded by the BC government. In addition to protecting people in BC against social condition discrimination, this amendment will also provide a critical avenue for people to seek resource and compensation upon experiencing this type of discrimination via BC’s Human Rights Tribunal.
How social condition intersects with MCFD’s culture of risk & surveillance
MCFD workers’ judgments about a family’s perceived risks are rooted in intersecting oppressions including anti-homeless and anti-drug user stigma, gender, race, and discrimination on the basis of social condition.
Protections against poverty discrimination are vital in BC, particularly as the BC Office of the Human Rights Commissioner found that 1 in 10 people in this province live in poverty, and the Premier’s Office and MCFD acknowledge that Indigenous children are disproportionately over-represented in B.C.’s child and family services system, comprising 10% of the general population yet representing 68% of the children in provincial care.
Pivot supports the call for urgent systemic change led by families who have been directly impacted and harmed by family policing, and whose calls for action are supported by legal and community-based organizations locally and across the province. Families who are directly impacted by the family policing system are calling on you to take up transformative and accountable work with Indigenous Nations, communities, and other impacted families to develop and affirm collective understandings of safety and well-being that uplift and support families in BC.
We urge you to take up this vital work to keep families and their communities healthy and safe, and to make changes to the BC Human Rights Code to protect a person’s social condition from discrimination across this province.
Nina Taghaddosi, RSW
Pivot Legal Society
Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families—and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World (2022)
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.